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City Advises Restaurants to Clear Street Seating in Anticipation of Winter Storm

Seattle may get some significant snow through the weekend, starting Thursday night

A “Do Not Enter/Snow Closure” sign sits on a snowy block at night covered in a layer of snowflakes, with the letters barely legible
Seattle saw a major snowstorm in February 2019 that shut down many streets and businesses.
David Ryder/Getty Images

Looks like Seattle has some disruptive winter weather on the way — and restaurants need to be on their toes. On Wednesday, February 10, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) issued an advisory to area businesses about clearing out streets, particularly restaurants and bars that have permits for additional outdoor seating.

The advisory is in anticipation of a weather pattern due to arrive Thursday night, with the potential for significant snowfall. While the memo doesn’t ban outdoor seating outright, it does ask restaurants “wherever possible” to remove any items in parking lanes and within 3 feet of the curb in front of their buildings. Examples of those items include street furniture, unbolted fencing, canopies, and heaters, as well as traffic control devices, such as barricades and signs.

“In the event of snow accumulation, plow operators will be working around the clock to remove snow on key routes,” SDOT wrote in its advisory. “They are working in very difficult conditions and, while they are on the lookout for cars, it is often difficult for them to see other items in the street.”

At the moment, the weather forecasts for the region range widely, from half an inch all the way up to 10 inches, although frigid temperatures seem certain over the next few days. The last time Seattle saw a major snowstorm, in February 2019, many restaurants and bars closed down completely for over a week, as the city came to a crawl.

Now that shutdowns are all too common during the pandemic, restaurants are used to making rapid adjustments. It’s also unclear how useful any sort of street seating would be during a driving snowstorm, if there is one. Many business owners have gone to great expense to winterize patio set-ups and secure expedited permits for street seating, all while operating with razor thin margins, so they may want to protect their investment from the elements, advisory or no.

But the winter weather throws yet another potential roadblock to restaurants in a year that’s already been full of them. There’s the potential for cancelations on the usually busy Valentine’s Day weekend, whether on takeout reservations or otherwise (here’s a reminder of how much restaurants lose on no shows). And if the city is snagged for an extended period of time like before, then business will continue to suffer. As it is now, there may be nothing much to do besides hunker down and hope for just some light flurries.